Hello, everyone! I’ve been attending Ch21Con 2021 online today, so this seemed like a good time to share my experiences with Chapter One Events, which runs both Ch1Con and Ch21Con. These are two writing conferences, one for teens and one for twenty-somethings, that take place every year in Chicago!
Fun fact: I had the honor of being a founding member of Chapter One Events! This glorious journey began when I was 13 and became a member of the Scholastic Write It boards, a heavily moderated online community for young writers where we shared our writing and discussed the book industry. During the five years I was a member, the boards had a really great regular membership. I made many incredible friends there whom I love more than I can express. I got the chance to experience a real writing community full of camaraderie (A+, would recommend), and I also learned a lot about writing, editing, and publishing. Without the Write It boards, I would not be where I am today, and I would be missing out on what bloomed into a beautiful set of friendships!
As the Write It regulars grew older and began to sneakily find each other on much-less-moderated social media, we became eager to meet each other in person. So in summer 2012, Julia Byers, my writing friend and a brilliant entrepreneur, put together a little private conference for us! Since I live in New Mexico and they were further east, I was unable to attend in person, but I spoke at it via video chat. (I talked about writing romance. 👍🏻)
Because of the success of the meet-up, Julia decided she wanted to make it into a full public conference where young writers could meet together. It would be a writing conference run by teens for teens. After tons of legal stuff and more legal stuff and monetary stuff and legal stuff, she finally was able to set up the Chapter One Conference to have its first official event in summer 2014. I was given a position in marketing on the original team. I started trying to raise money to go to Chicago, and I set to work putting together a blog tour. That wasn’t something I’d ever done before, and I was very intimidated. Still, I faked it ’til I maked it. (LOL.) I really learned a lot, even though I kept thinking I was way too young to be taken seriously.
After a lot of back-and-forth, I figured out a way to afford the travel to Ch1Con 2014. Julia immediately put me on as a speaker, doing a workshop about novel openings. So now I was putting that together on top of the conference promotion and my first ever self-planned trip, which was a delightful adventure! I was beyond excited to see in person these longtime friends who had done (and continue to do) so much for me as a writer and a person–and to meet real published authors for the first time. 🤩
My travel to Chicago was a chaotic, wonderful time. I’d never travelled that far east before, and I was stunned seeing all the differences from what I’m used to! Black-and-white cows, tons of brick houses, so much green and wet, a big city skyline, more diverse people than I’d ever seen. My mother and I traveled via Amtrak, which was also a fun new experience. I was honestly pretty overwhelmed, in part because I was so nervous about meeting these people who were so important to me, so I shut down a little bit. I was so scared that I was an awkward disappointment in person!
Once I had a chance to eat some food–Panera, which was also a first for me!–and spend time one-on-one with my favorite Julia doing a podcast interview promoting Ch1Con, I started to calm down and relax into the experience. I hung out that evening with my Write Iters and went to bed excited for the actual conference to start the next day.
We started setting up around eight the next morning, and it was a little more complicated than I’d expected, but finally, we had everything together. All of us attendees and speakers and team members (there only ended up being eight of us that first time, but hey) had a ton of fun and got off topic a lot. There was book analysis, school talk, and general writing mayhem. It was one of the most enjoyable things I have ever experienced. Getting to be with other people your age who have your same interests is truly unparalleled. That was the best part of the conference.
Our speakers talked about procrastination, POV as a central part of world-building, journalism’s connection to novel writing (with Mr. Rogers pictures), movies vs. novels, and character development. I also got to do a live panel with Amy Zhang and Patrice Caldwell, which was awesome. Then we ended the official sessions for the day to have a touristy Chicago adventure! We spent more time endlessly chattering about our shared interests as we rode the subway, went to Millennium Park and the Bean and face fountains, and ate dinner. My fibromyalgia caused some trouble, which was upsetting, but it was 1000% worth it.
The next day was much more low-key, with a smaller set of workshops that included my own. We continued to get way off-topic a lot, but Julia’s query workshop, especially, was helpful. Then we did a little driving tour before going to Union Station. I got more time with the Write Iters who were left and also saw Lake Michigan. Then I awkward-hugged my friends over the car seats, and it was over. My heart hurt so much from missing everyone already. It was magical, being able to find this great group of friends in people I’d never actually met before, and just… the experience was amazing.
For our conference in summer 2015, the stakes were raised. We had more experience, but we needed this event to be successful enough to continue investing resources in. So I upped my marketing work. Thanks to that first conference, we’d established a bit of a brand, full of jokes like rotten tomatoes, Larry the Hamster, and Panera as a sponsor. Now we added ongoing events like YouTube and Twitter chats. We teamed up with popular blog Teens Can Write, Too! Julia continued to show off how phenomenal she is. We had fun with technology and time zones and Indiegogo campaigns. And it worked! We got enough attendees to keep the flame burning.
I didn’t know whether I’d be able to go in person again–I thought that 2014 might be it for seeing my writing friends. But luckily, finances worked out again! This time, my mother and I travelled by plane, and I was a lot less nervous but even more excited (also more tired). Karuna Riazi, whom I’d been a huge fan of for a long time, was one of our speakers, and I couldn’t even manage to talk to her face-to-face because I was so thrilled about it, LOL.
Once again, we had a marvelous time all being together as young writers. Things were more official and less off-topic, but still totally delightful! Our speakers this time talked about teen authorhood, world-building, color-coded outlining, diversity in writing, and the publishing process. We got even more of an insight into the background details of the industry, which was awesome.
I was too sick with my fibromyalgia and such now to be able to go be touristy, so I slept instead. The next day, my Write It friends decided I did need to go see dolphins at the Shedd Aquarium because my username on the boards had been DolphinWriter and I had never seen one before. Once again, my illnesses caused trouble, but I was able to see the dolphins. It was lovely.
Then the 2015 conference experience was over, and I said goodbye to my writing friends. I have yet to see them in person again, but we continue to constantly talk online. They’ve gotten me through so much!
Despite my physical distance, I continued to be a part of the Ch1Con team as the conference’s stability grew. Eventually, our original team became old enough that we decided to add a second conference, Chapter 21 Conference, for writers in their twenties. New, younger people took over Ch1Con, and together, the teams formed Chapter One Events. Thanks to my chronic illness crisis, unfortunately, I did have to leave the team earlier than I otherwise might’ve. But I’m thrilled that some of the original team are still there, while we also have many new people taking charge!
In 2020, obviously, the unexpected happened in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. So the summer 2020 conference moved to virtual form, which permitted me, for the first time, to attend Ch21Con! It being virtual was not quite as fun, with no travel adventure and fewer chances to interact with people, but I appreciated it. Julia once again had some good query advice.
Then this year, summer 2021, the team decided to do a hybrid event, so I once again got to attend via video. I missed part of it because my body loves sleep too much, but it’s been nice! The sound over video was a bit of a sensory nightmare, and I still missed the lack of socializing. I imagine it’s hard when there’s so much happening in person, but I think it’d be awesome if they had a dedicated person focused entirely on running a chat through Twitter or the Discord in the future!
I continue to be a supporter of this conference experience. Connecting with your peers, especially as a young writer, means so much, and there’s a lot to be learned from the speakers! I hope I’ll be able to attend a conference in person again someday, despite my illnesses/finances, whether it’s a Chapter One Events conference or another. I also hope these conference organizers will continue providing some options on the virtual side for disabled people like me. 😊